Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano commanded voyages to the East Coast of North America, intending to find a passageway to the Pacific Ocean. The voyages were sanctioned and funded by King Francis I of France, who felt that his country was falling behind in the exploration race. The first voyage headed straight to the East Coast and then went north, hoping to find a way west. The final voyage, where Verrazzano turned south, would prove fatal.
The first voyage, around 1524 to 1525, was not without incident. Verrazzano started out with four ships. Two of them, the Santa Maria and the Vittoria sank during a storm at sea. The other two, the Delfina and the Normanda were attacked by Spanish ships. The Normanda sank, but the Delfina, which was the flagship, continued on, eventually arriving in modern-day Cape Fear, North Carolina.
Verrazzano sailed south as far as Florida, then changed his mind and went north, ending up at the Bay of New York and later Martha's Vineyard and Newport, Rhode Island. After a brief stay, he sailed back to France.
In 1528, Verrazzano made his last attempt at finding a passage. He sailed south along the Florida coast and into the Caribbean. As the story goes, Verrazzano and a few crew members decided to explore a seemingly unpopulated island just south of Jamaica. The natives, who were cannibals, killed and ate the group.
Despite never finding a passage to the Pacific Ocean, Verrazzano made considerable contributions toward mapping the Atlantic coast of North America. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City is named after him, though it misspells his name.